Communicating Lasting Impressions

7 Keys to Engaging Older Adults in Your Schools

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As baby boomers become empty nesters and explore new interests, they’re ideal candidates to serve as school child and older school volunteervolunteers. In addition to sharing valuable skills from the workplace, they represent a major voting block that helps decide funding for education.

Building relationships and engagement with these stakeholders takes time. Here’s how to get started:

Plan

Create a vision of your ideal school or school system. Brainstorm with teachers, staff, parents and community members about possible programs to support student success. Sometimes it’s helpful to consider programs by categories:

  • Health Delivery/Education
  • Mental Health/Social Services
  • Out-of-School Programs
  • Youth Development
  • Parent/Family Education/Enrichment
  • Neighborhood Development

Engage older adults to give feedback on prospective programs they and their peers would support. Invite them to develop purposeful volunteer roles for the programs.

Recruit

Go where boomers hang out. Communicate your vision to service organizations that are passionate about education. Partner with restaurants offering senior discounts to increase awareness of your school or school district. Take students into the community to learn, volunteer and share their talents. It’s amazing how students can instantly connect with older adults by performing just the right song or sharing another talent.

Many community schools have had success offering club-type benefits to recruit adults 55+. Free or reduced admission to arts and athletic events is one way to bring seasoned seniors into your schools. Special deals from area businesses create an even sweeter deal.

Train

Once you’ve recruited baby boomers as school volunteers, offer meaningful training. If you’re just starting to engage these volunteers, begin with a visionary message from the superintendent or principal. Involve students to give a human touch to volunteering. Include fun activities along with the necessary procedures and paperwork. Above all, show appreciation for their involvement!

Communicate

Besides learning the how-to of assignments, volunteers need to hear success stories. This confirms that what they do really matters. Feature stories of volunteers supporting the educational process in school/district communications. In addition to quotes from volunteers, try to include the student’s perspective through a quote or photo. Include a comment from a teacher or principal, if appropriate.

Target multiple communication channels for each story. Personal stories told by school leaders create the highest level of engagement, especially when tied to the vision. Besides print and electronic newsletters, plus school/district websites, share stories with the media. Post nuggets on social media. For volunteers serving through an organization, make sure the organization’s president or CEO receives the story.

Don’t forget to ask for feedback on the volunteer experience. This is easy to do via an online survey, but personal conversations work too.

Recognize and Thank

Just as you communicate student success stories, take time to recognize volunteers. Consider an annual celebration where students tell their stories. Honor a volunteer of the month and year. Invite these valuable volunteers to a dance or dinner theatre, where students take center stage. Ask area businesses to co-sponsor activities, if needed. Make sure students, as well as school leaders, send personal notes to express their thanks for each volunteer’s contributions.

Engage

Once “seniors” are involved, invite them into deeper levels of engagement. Call them for feedback on an issue. Ask them to serve on a task force or advisory committee. See if they’ll chair an important event. If school district staff have been intentional in building relationships with older adults, then it should be easy to connect each volunteer’s skills and interests to roles identified in the school/district vision.

Repeat

Don’t forget how you started. Fine-tune your vision. Keep recruiting. Provide meaningful training. Communicate success stories. Recognize volunteers so each one knows they are making a difference. With this level of engagement, you’ll foster goodwill in the community and students will reap the rewards.

Need assistance in developing an engagement program for the older adults in your school or school district community? Give give us a call at 281.491.2369 to schedule a no-obligation consultation.